The Pattern That Could Change The World!

L. Michael Hall, Ph.D.

What follows here is a basic NLP pattern that was originally created by Richard Bandler and John Grinder.  You can find the pattern in its original form in Steve Andreas’ book, Frog to Princes (1979).  I first found this pattern in 1986 and it revolutionized my life.  Literally.

First it completely changed the way I was doing psychotherapy as it changed my Cognitive-Behavioral approach sending me into an entirely new level of structure —the structure of experience and making that primary to content.  Next, as I used the pattern on my own memories and the things that could “push my buttons” to create a lot of negative emotional charge about things, it transformed me as a person.

Then I realized something—every person on this planet should know this pattern!  With this pattern, there should not be a single human being walking around or living with a phobia. There’s no need.  Not any longer.  When you learn this pattern and how to use it, using a simple metaphor like watching a movie, you can take the emotional charge out of any old memory that still pushes your buttons or that throws you into a phobic response state.

In the field of NLP, this pattern is called the Phobia Cure pattern or the V-K (Visual-Kinesthetic) dissociation pattern.  When I wrote the book MovieMind (2002) and User’s Manual of the Brain, Volume II (2001 with Bob Bodenhamer), I called it The Movie Rewind Pattern because that is the central process used in the pattern— you run your mental movie backwards.  And that’s why you can use it for all kinds of things— phobias, traumatic memories, PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder), strong over-emotional reactions to things, “buttons,” depression, anxiety, etc.

The Secret Behind being Phobia Free

It’s all about your “thinking.”  There are two ways that you can process information as you think.   You can do so analytically and you can do so experientially. When you think or read something experientially, you feel as if you have entered into the story that you are reading or imagining.  To do that you represent the information an encode the information in a way that you cue yourself to neuro-linguistically experience it.

Conversely, when you think or read something analytically, you hold the material at “arms length” so to speak.  You analyze it, think about it, and you take a spectator’s point of view regarding the information.   In the first instance, you step into the content of the story or information and in the second, you step out of it and take a view from outside it as a spectator.

Each of these ways of looking at things (perceptual styles) has its strengths and its weaknesses.  To step into your representations empowers you to take the first perceptual position.  You see thins from out of your own eyes and ears and feel things as if from out of your own body.  Do this and you enter into a story and will come to “know” it from within.

To step outside of the representations allows you to take the second and third perceptual positions—to see it as someone else might or to see it from a third and neutral position.  And when you do that, you can analyze it in order to learn from it.  Then it will not activate your emotional responses.   If you do too much of the stepping in and associating, you can become an emotional cripple, hysterical, unable to “think,” and reactive with all kinds of emotional reactions.   If you do  gdtoo much of the stepping out and just observing, you may become an intellectual egghead and an emotional incompetent—unable to relate emotionally and personally to yourself or others.  So obviously, the balance of choosing when and where to do each is the secret.

With regard to hurts, traumas, and unpleasant realities, many people can’t even think about such things.  To think is to be re-traumatized.   It activates all sorts of negative emotions—especially fears and phobias.  Typically, such individuals eventually lose their willingness to even entertain painful thoughts; those in helping professions frequently burn-out.  Others develop PSTD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder).   Because they cannot even “think” about a subject without going into negative painful emotional state, they experience thinking as distressful and unpleasant.  This robs them of an important resource: the skill of thinking comfortably about unpleasant events. So “reality” pains them.  So they repress, suppress, deny, avoid, etc.

The Phobia Cure Pattern or The Movie-Rewind Pattern offers a marvelous technology for recovering from trauma states and from PTSD.   The pattern enables and empowers a person to learn how to “think” about unpleasant things without re-associating and re-experiencing the situation.  You can stop signaling your body to respond to “thoughts” as if actually in the trauma again.  By stopping the ongoing re-traumatization, you resolve the pain, and can then release the old memories so that you can get on with living your life more abundantly and positively.

The human technology within this pattern works by moving in your mind and understanding (mentally and conceptually) to a different frame-of-reference.  It invites you to move to the “second” perceptual position of another person, then to the “third” perceptual position of seeing things from an observer point of view so that you can see whatever the scene or information is from a position of distance.  This allows you to feel safe as you “think” about it.  It also enables you to stop yourself from stepping back into the memory and associating into the experience because if you did that you would be re-accessing the old negative emotional states.  And that does not help.  Instead, with the new perspectives, you will be able to apply new and more powerful resources to the old memory and thereby change it.

To recapitulate, The Movie-Rewind Pattern (called the Phobia Cure Pattern in NLP) works by enabling you to move to a different frame-of-reference— to a spectator viewpoint.  There you can view the “painful” information from your past comfortably.  Doing this interrupts your “trauma thinking” and prevents you from processing the information in a way whereby you could collapse into a negative emotional state.

This understanding of human subjective experiences identifies that the source of your emotional experience goes back to how you code things in your mind-and-body. As you code information—so you experience.  It’s that simple.  It is also that profound.  Your subjective experiences is created by the coding you use.  So, when you change that coding, you change your experience at the neurological level.  And that leads to a change in your emotions and behaviors.

So with your two categorical ways of “thinking” (by stepping in and stepping out of your representations of an event) you can now develop the flexibility of consciousness to choose which to do when.  You can decide how to code and experience the “”information” about various events that you have been through.  You can do so analytically (that is objectively) and so un-emotionally or you can do so experientially (that is, subjectively) and hence “emotionally.”   You can remember old events as a spectator to those experiences—as if you were a movie goer, just watching it, rather than as an actor in the movie.

When you use this technology, you can effectively managing strong negative “emotions” and then you can learn from your past rather than using your past to feel bad about.  You can use it to “switch off” any scene that you don’t need to play anymore in your inner theater.  If it was a B-rated movie the first time you experienced it, you do not have to keep replaying it.

A final caveat: If you use this pattern on pleasant experiences, you will thereby neutralize them.  This can also work to your detriment.  Doing so will rob you of the feel of being alive and vital. It will eliminate good feelings, motivation, emotional understanding, etc.

The Movie-Rewind Pattern

Here is a step by step description of what to do to “run your brain” in this way and to take out the negative emotional charge of some old memory. Try it with yourself, if you have difficulty, then find a well-trained and qualified NLP practitioner or Neuro-Semanticist who can then facilitate the process with you.

1) Identify a mental representation that bothers you.

What thought activates strong negative emotions in you?  What memory of some unpleasant experience or even traumatic experience puts you, as it were, back in that event?  What idea pushes your buttons?  What triggers you to go into a fight-flight stress response by just thinking about it or considering it?

When you know, identify it in terms of what you see, hear, and sense.  This means, identify the visual, auditory, and kinesthetic features of the movie that you are playing in your mind.  If you are new to this, this will— at first— be strange or challenging.

  • What are you aware off visually— what do you see?  Where?  Is it in color or black-and-white?
  • What are you aware of auditorially— what sounds, words from others, words around you, words that you are saying inside yourself?
  • What are you aware of kinesthetically— what sensations, what temperature (cold, warm, hot), what pressure, movement, etc.   (Kinesthetic refers to internal or external sensations, and are not emotions, just the feelings that make up one aspect of an emotion).

2) Use the Movie Metaphor to create an Internal Representation of this old troublesome Movie.

Now imagine that you have gone to the movies are are setting in a theater, in your mind, and ready to watch this old movie for the last time.  As you imagine yourself sitting in a movie theater, which row would you like to be in so that you can observe comfortably?  I like the tenth row.  You might like row 5 or row 20 or row 200.   Find the row that works best for you.

When you are in the seat that you best like, then on the screen of your mind, put a black-and white picture of the younger you in the situation fifteen minutes or so before the traumatic events occurred.  Oh yes, get out your bag of popcorn or whatever you best like to eat when you go to the movies.

The movie up on the screen is a snap-shot right now.  You have freezed-framed it and it represents something that occurred 15 minutes prior to when something unpleasant happened.   Now sit back to watch it, aware that you have taken a spectator’s position to that younger you.  Notice that you have stepped out of the picture, and have a position from outside.  And in a little bit you will watch this old B-rated movie for the last time.

As you gain this psychological distance from that event, you have begun the process of running your own brain.  So you can feel delighted that you have this ability to step aside from your thoughts.  You are more than your thoughts, you are more than the experiences you have been through.  Those are just the things you have had to deal with and now you can put them behind you.  And shortly you can use those memories for learning— perhaps learning what not to do, but never again for feeling bad.  That’s not useful.

3) Begin to Become the Editor of your own Movies

As you set back and take a spectator’s point of view to that old movie, notice how you have coded the movie.  Doing that will then give you the ability to play around with these codes and to alter them so that they enhance your life and emotions.

  • Visually.   Begin with the visual system and just notice whether you have the picture in color or black-and-white?  Is it a movie or snapshot?  Is it bright or dim?  Close or far?  And as you make these distinctions, you can begin to choose which coding would enable you to think comfortably about that memory so that you can stay resourceful and thoughtful in a relaxed and comfortable way.  Just notice the effect that it has for you when you dim the picture of your unpleasant memory.  Now turn down the brightness, further, further, until it doesn’t bother you anymore.  Send the picture off into the distance.
  • Auditorially. Next check out the auditory system—the sound track of your memory.  Do you even have a sound track?   What sounds do you hear coming from that movie?  What quality of tones do you hear?  At what volume, pitch, and melody?  Now check out your language system.  What words do you hear from that younger you?  From where do you hear these words coming?  Notice their tone, volume, and location.  As you notice how that younger you feels, what sensations does that person have in his or her body up that on the screen? Where and at what intensity, weight, pressure?  What shifts in these codes enable you to think comfortably about that old memory?  How relaxed do you feel as you make alterations in your coding?  How much of a growing sense of distance and control does this gives you?

4) Float back and up to the Control Booth.

Now as you sit there, still getting ready for the movie to begin, one more thing to do—imagine floating out of your body from the row that you are sitting in and floating back to the Projection Booth.  Float all the way out of your body and into the Control Room until you can feel your hands on the plexi-glass window so that you can look out and see the back of your head facing the screen.

Take a moment to experience and enjoy this very different point-of-view.  It may take just a little bit to fully imagine seeing yourself —today’s you (in whatever row you are sitting in) watching your younger you on the screen before the movie begins to play.  As you note The Adult You sitting in the theater (seeing the back of his or her head) let yourself also see beyond that to the still picture on the screen.

Watching this will be strange and weird the first time but you will get used to it very quickly, and if you feel a bit dizzy at any time, you can put your hands on the plexi-glass again and feel safe and secure in this control booth.  This is the place to remember that you are in control of the movie and can stop it or fast-forward it at any time that you wish.

5) Playing the old memory for the Last time.

Now when you are ready, from the Project Booth, you can turn on the movie and let it move from the initial snapshot.  Let it now play out as a black-and-white movie.  And watch it from a double-perspective— from the audience and from the projection booth.  Watch it from the beginning to the end.

And if at any time, the movie tempts you to step in— feel your hands on the plexi-glass and stay safe and in control in the Control Room. And if at any time, you need to fast-forward the movie, after all, you know what happened, just fast forward it a bit.  Then play it to the end.

When you have let it play out beyond the unpleasant experience, play if a bit further.  Play it to a later time, after the bad scene disappears, and see that Younger You in a time and place of safety and even pleasure.  . . .  Go to a scene of comfort when you were feeling good about yourself and having fun doing something — at a park, on a beach, with a loved one.   ….  This later time does not have to be even close to the time of the trauma, but just some time later when you were enjoying yourself.

Good.  Now when you get to that place of comfort and pleasure, stop the movie and freeze frame the picture again.

6) Step in and Rewind your Movie from the Pleasure backwards.

Now the next step will occur in just a moment— when you are ready— and when it does it will occur very, very quickly.  We are doing to move into super-fast movement as we rewind the movie in fast rewind

So wait until you get all of the instructions about how to do this.   In a moment, rewind this memory movie in fast rewind mode.  As you have seen movies or videos run backwards so you will rewind the movie backwards at a very high speed rewind, so fast that it will only take two seconds—2 seconds!  But — and this is a big but— this time you will be inside the movie when you rewind it.

So imagine that!  Float inside the scene of comfort and pleasure… be there.   See and hear what you would see and hear when there and feel it— feel the comfort and the pleasure.  And now from this vantage point, you will be rewind the movie backwards.  You know the sound of running a movie backward?  Hear that.   And you know the rush and confusion of sights as everything goes backwards, a jumbling of sounds as everything zooms back to the moment 15 minutes prior to the unpleasant movie.  When you experience this fast rewinding, all the people and their actions go backwards.  They walk and talk backwards.  You walk and talk in reverse.  Everything happens in reverse, like rewinding a movie.  So ready?

How much do you feel the comfort and pleasure right now?  When it is at a level of 7 or 8 on a scale of 10, then push the rewind button . . .   and experience it rewinding  . . .  zooooooommmmm.  All the way back to the beginning.  It only takes a second or two to do that fast rewind . . .

And how did that feel . . . rewinding from inside the movie?

7) Repeat this Rewinding Process five times.

When you arrive back to the snapshot at the beginning, clear the screen in your mind.  That is, take a break, open your eyes and look around.  Good.

Now, immediately go to the scene of comfort and pleasure at the end again, and as soon as you step it, feel, see, and hear it fully . . . rewind the movie even faster. As you do this over and over your brain will become more and more proficient and the rewind will go faster and faster until the rewind takes only a second each time.   Zoommmm!

8) Test the results.

Break state from this exercise.  Then after a minute or two, call up the original memory and see if you can get the feelings back.  Try as hard as you can to step into the scene and feel the full weight of the emotions.

Other Editing Tools

From the act of stepping back from experientially thinking about a fearful or hurtful event to watching it as a spectator, to imagine watching it from a projection booth in the control room, you can do all kinds of things.  You can rewind the movie and take the emotional charge out of the experience.  You can also do many other things to change your codings.  Here are some other choices.

1) Associate a resourceful memory.

Recall the memory of a time when you felt creative, confident, powerful, etc. from the past.  See what you saw at that time and turn up the brightness and color on that memory so that invites you into it to fully associate into it and experience it.  Now when you do feel this fully as a resourceful state—bring into it the scene that has been fearful to you.  What is the negative stimulus (e.g., dog, spider) that you fear?  As you now merge these two memories, do so until they integrate so that you can then experience yourself handling the situation using the resources from the more positive memory.

2) Alter your sound track.

Re-process the way you hear yourself and others talk.  How would you want to make your voice different?  Or the voice of someone else?   What qualities would make the memory less intense?  What voice would you like to have heard?  Install an internal voice to help you through this situation.

3) Add tonal qualities to the sound track to make it better.

Take the unpleasant memory and put some nice loud circus music behind it.  Now watch the movie again.  How do you feel when you see the old movie and hear the circus music?

4) Apply your spiritual faith.

Use your spiritual belief system to bring in a Guardian Angel, a loving heavenly Father, or some strong resource.  Now split your screen and see through the eye of your faith, the Guardian Angel hovering over the earthly scene of your memory.  See and  hear your Angel caring and loving you.  Perhaps you hear, “I am with you.”  “I will help you.”  See Jesus touch you with his healing hand.

5) Symbolically code the memory.

You could make all the people transparent in your memory so you see through them.  Or you could color code them according to how you think and feel about them.   You could draw a line around the three-dimensional persons in your memory, make them two dimensional and color them according your evaluation of them.

6) Humorize your memory.

Because laughter provides a great distancing skill, use your humor so that you can laugh the emotional pain off.  How far in the future do you need to transport yourself before you can look back on a memory and laugh at it?  What difference lies between a memory you can laugh at and one that you can’t?  Do you see yourself in one, but not in the other?  Do you have one coded as a snap-shot and the other as a movie?  What difference lies in color, size, brightness?  Imagine the hurtful person talking like Donald Duck?  Turn your opponent into a caricature cartoon character with exaggerated lips, eyes, head, hands, etc.

End Notes:

1.  A caveat about the terminology. I only use the term dissociation here because it is used in the literature of NLP.  Personally, I do not use the term and do not like it.  In psychology, it is used to speak about various personality disorderings.   Further, we humans do not, and cannot, literally step out of our body to avoid experiencing emotions.  So even in “dissociation” a person is using his or her body and all that’s occurring is occurring in the body and that’s generating various somatic sensations and feelings.   More accurately, what’s actually happening is that a person is conceptually stepping aside from his or her emotions and thinking about them from a meta position.  As embodied neuro-linguistic beings, we cannot literally dissociate from our bodies.